Assisted suicide

An overview of the debate

16 January 2009
The purpose of this briefing is to provide members with a background to key issues relating to assisted suicide, so as to inform member responses to an RCN consultation (which ran from 16 February until May 22 2009). It details the current legal and parliamentary positions with respect to assisted suicide, which vary between the four UK countries, and also lists current arguments both for and against assisted suicide and potential issues relating to nursing practice.

Like any selection of the population nurses express a range of views on sensitive ethical issues. The notion of ending a human life is a profound and emotive concept, particularly for health professionals whose values and code of ethics are orientated to improving and maintaining health wherever possible.

However, the RCN believes that a consultation with members on this area is now appropriate in light of the wider public debate and the recent developments in relation to assisted suicide over the last few years (in particular the high profile suicides at the Zurich Dignitas facility). It is important that nurses understand the issues, both from an ethical and legal standpoint as well as from a patient's perspective.

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